Much of my work has been working on systemic barriers around access to quality information. Knowledge equity means ensuring access to information in an environment which respects human rights. I would say that adding more content doesn’t equal knowledge equity. I think we have to be really careful not to equate “filling gaps” with equity.
For example, mass uploads of content doesn’t produce equity if there are things in that content that are harmful in some way (i.e. colonial). And further, we need to consider whether we have the right to someone’s knowledge or a community’s knowledge. Sometimes gaps are intentional and sometimes gaps equal equity. It’s our responsibility to take these issues as central to working toward knowledge equity. And we can do this by involving more people from the communities we intend to serve.
For the past few years, I have been working on projects and issues around the ways Indigenous peoples and cultures are covered in the Wikimedia projects as well as advocating for the involvement of libraries and other cultural heritage institutions in the Wikimedia projects. I do believe that involving more GLAM institutions and educational institutions can lead to greater knowledge equity.
I have been working in the Wikimedia projects in relation to Indigenous matters. I am a Citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario and have Indigenous ancestry. Working on the projects is a way for me to make my community visible and call attention to areas where inequity is present. For example, I write Wikipedia articles on Indigenous peoples, like “water warrior” and climate activist Autumn Peltier, an Anishinaabe high school student from Wikwemikong First Nation. I have co-organized a number of events focused on issues around Indigenous knowledge in the GLAM and Wikimedia projects space.
I have also been working on several projects around Wikidata and Wikibase and Indigenous issues, again, returning to the issue of systemic or structural issues, knowledge is structured through metadata and has enormous power as metadata plays such a large role in online search. Oftentimes the terminology used in libraries and other places is problematic. For example, using names for peoples that was given by colonial power. Oftentimes these names are actually insulting or inappropriate in some way, but that fact may not be known. We need to use the terms used by the communities themselves. Another example is the use of names for places that were given by colonial powers, despite that fact that there were names already in existence, names for rivers, lakes, mountains. Those names need to be restored and we can do that in our data. In fact, we have an imperative to do so if we want our projects to be equitable. I am specifically looking at Wikidata from this perspective and considering how we can think about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the context of Wikidata. UNDRIP refers repeatedly to sustainability in connection to respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples. Applying UNDRIP to our projects is linked to the Sustainability Goals.
At the Wikidatacon conference in Berlin in October 2019, a group of us got together for an Indigenous Knowledge meet up and this discussion highlighted numerous places where we need to advocate as a community. For example, ensuring Indigenous languages, many of which are endangered, can be rendered online (we need ISO codes and unicode characters). We also need ways we can handle Indigenous related content and traditional knowledge in Wikimedia Commons. Public domain doesn’t have relevance for traditional knowledge, knowledge doesn’t suddenly pass out of community for use by anyone. We talked about the need to implement measures that can better respect Indigenous content. Attendees were interested in moving some kind of group forward to help work on these issues. (Etherpad of the Indigenous Knowledge Meet-Up)
Education and understanding on the ways structures can replicate violence. Some might refer to it as “epistemic violence”. Words are powerful. We need to acknowledge that a commitment to knowledge equity needs to mean more than filling gaps in the Wikimedia globe.
Do you want to know more?
- Stacy Allison-Cassin’s homepage
- Stacy’s session “Wikibase for Canadian Indigenous Content” at Wikidatacon 2019 (including slides and video recording of the session)
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